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Hyde-Smith, appointed to the seat in April, defeats Democrat Mike Espy
JACKSON, Mississippi (CFP) — After a racially charged three-week runoff campaign, Republican U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith has held on to her seat in Mississippi, defeating Democrat Mike Espy in the nation’s last remaining Senate contest.
With Hyde-Smith’s win, Republicans will hold 53 seats in the next Senate, to 45 for Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats.
Hyde-Smith took 54 percent in the November 27 vote to 46 percent for Espy, a former congressman who was trying to make a return to politics after a 20-year absence. She is the first woman ever elected to the Senate from the Magnolia State.
“The reason we won is because Mississippians know me and they know my heart,” Hyde-Smith told supporters in Jackson. “This victory, it’s about our conservative values.”
In his concession speech at the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, Espy told supports that his showing — the best by a Democrat in a Senate race in the state in 30 years — was “the beginning, not the end” of efforts to change Mississippi’s politics.
“When this many people show up, when this many people stand up, when this many people speak up, it is not a loss. It is a moment,” he said.
Hyde-Smith and Espy were facing in a special election to fill the remaining two years of the term of Republican Thad Cochran, the Mississippi icon who resigned in April due to ill health. She was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to serve in the Senate temporarily until voters picked a permanent replacement in the special election.
During both the primary and special election, Hyde-Smith enjoyed the support of President Donald Trump, who tweeted on her behalf and made two appearances in the state on the day before the runoff vote.
Hyde-Smith, 59, from Brookhaven, was Mississippi’s agriculture commissioner until being appointed to the Senate. She was originally elected to the state Senate in 2000 as a Democrat but switched parties in 2010.
Espy, 64, from Jackson, served three terms in the U.S. House before being picked by President Bill Clinton as agriculture secretary in 1993.
During the first round of voting November 6, Hyde-Smith and Espy tied at 41 percent, with another Republican in the race, State Senator Chris McDaniel, coming in third.
Given the state’s overwhelming Republican tilt, Hyde-Smith was seen as a prohibitive favorite in the runoff. Indeed, McDaniel, who nearly beat Cochran in 2014, was seen as the biggest hurdle to her continued tenure in the Senate. However, she became ensnared in a series of controversies during the runoff campaign that gave Democrats hope for an upset.
Five days after the first election, a video surfaced in which Hyde-Smith is heard telling a supporter that if he invited her to a public hanging, she would be in the front row. She insisted the remark was a joke, but her critics charged it was a racially insensitive remark to make in a state with a history of lynchings of African-Americans.
During their only campaign debate, Hyde-Smith apologized “to anyone who was offended by my comments,” insisting there was “no ill will” and that her record as senator and agriculture commissioner shows she harbors no racial animus.
“This comment was twisted, and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me — a political weapon used for nothing but personal, political gain by my opponent,” she said.
Another video surfaced November 15 in which Hyde-Smith says it would be a “great idea” to make it more difficult for liberals to vote, which her campaign insisted was a joke made to supporters and not advocacy of voter suppression.
Then a week before the runoff, news organizations began reporting on a photo posted in 2014 on Hyde-Smith’s Facebook account, where she is seen donning a Confederate cap and carrying a rifle while visiting Jefferson Davis’s home in Biloxi.
The Jackson Free Press also reported that Hyde-Smith had attended a high school in the 1970s originally founded to allow white parents to avoid sending their children to segregated schools.
Hyde-Smith’s campaign accused news organizations of practicing “gotcha” journalism in an attempt to paint her as a racist. But the controversies put race front and center in the campaign, in the state with the largest African-American population in the country.
The election results illustrated those racial divisions. Espy easily carried Jackson and the majority African-American counties in the Mississippi Delta; Hyde-Smith won lopsided victories in majority white areas — up to 80 percent in some counties in the northeastern and southeastern corners of the state.
With Hyde-Smith’s victory, Republicans will hold 24 out of the 28 Senate seats in the South, to just four Democrats — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine in Virginia, Joe Manchin in West Virginia, and Doug Jones in Alabama.
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Republican Governor Rick Scott will move from Tallahassee to Washington after winning recount
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
TALLAHASSEE (CFP) — After protests, a flurry of lawsuits and two recounts, Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson has conceded defeat to Republican Governor Rick Scott, possibly bringing the curtain down on a political career that spanned more than four decades and included a trip into space.
Scott’s victory means there will be just four Democrats among the 28 senators representing Southern states, down one from the last Congress. And Florida will have two Republican senators for the first time since Reconstruction in 1875.
In a video released by his campaign, Nelson said that while he lost the Senate race, “I by no means feel defeated, and that’s because I’ve had the great privilege of serving the people of Florida and our country for most of my life.”
“It’s been a rewarding journey as well as a very humbling experience,” he said.
He also made a plea for more civility to combat “a gathering darkness” in American political life.
“We have to move beyond a politics that aims not just to defeat but to destroy, where truth is treated as disposable,” he said.
Scott, who has now won three consecutive statewide elections by thin margins, issued a statement thanking Nelson “for his years of public service.”
Nelson’s concession came after a machine recount of ballots in all 67 counties and a hand recount of ballots with under-votes or over-votes in the Senate race did not overturn Scott’s margin of victory.
Scott defeated Nelson by just 10,033 votes, out of nearly 8.2 million cast.
Scott had led on election night, but late reports of ballots from Democratic-leaning Broward and Palm Beach counties began narrowing the lead. Both Scott and President Donald Trump suggested that fraud was occurring in both counties, although evidence seemed to point to mismanagement rather than deliberate malfeasance.
In the following days, both campaigns went to court, and protests erupted outside elections offices in Broward — scenes reminiscent of the recount battle that erupted in the Sunshine State after the 2000 presidential election.
Nelson’s last hope was turning up uncounted ballots in Broward, where 25,000 fewer people voted in the Senate election than in the race for governor. But the hand recount confirmed that those ballots were indeed under-votes, which could have been caused by a flawed ballot design.
In Broward, the Senate race was listed at the bottom of a column underneath voting instructions, which could have resulted in some voters not seeing it.
Scott, 65, went into politics after building a fortune in the health care industry. Financial disclosure reports put his net worth at around $250 million.
He won the governorship in 2010 with a margin of just 1.2 percent and won re-election in 2014 in an even closer race, 1 percent. His margin over Nelson in the Senate race was narrower still, 0.12 percent.
Scott’s win means Republicans will have at least 52 seats in the next Senate to 47 for Democrats, a net pickup of two seats. One seat remains to be decided in Mississippi, where Republicans are favored.
Nelson, 76, won his first election, to the Florida House, in 1972. He served 12 years in the U.S. House and six years as Florida’s insurance commissioner before winning election to the Senate in 2000.
In 1986, while a sitting member of the House, Nelson went into space as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Columbia. His district included the Kennedy Space Center.
Just 10 days after his return, a different space shuttle, Challenger, exploded during launch, which ended NASA’s program of sending civilians into space.
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Manchin’s decision all but ensures that President Trump’s nominee will get seat on U.S. Supreme Court
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor
WASHINGTON (CFP) — U.S. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia says he will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the only Senate Democrat to break with his party to support President Trump’s embattled nominee.
Manchin’s decision virtually ensures that Kavanuagh will be confirmed when the Senate takes a final vote on the nomination, a week after the jurist angrily denied allegations that he sexually assaulted a girl when they were teenagers in the 1980s.
The vote on the nomination was delayed a week while the FBI investigated the allegations.
In a statement announcing his decision, Manchin said he has “reservations about this vote given the serious accusations against Judge Kavanaugh and the temperament he displayed in the hearing.”
“My heart goes out to anyone who has experienced sexual assault,” Manchin said. “However, based on all the information I have available to me, including the recently concluded FBI report, I have found Judge Kavanaugh to be a qualified jurist who will follow the Constitution and determine cases based on the legal findings before him.”
But Machin also said he hoped Kavanaugh “would not let the partisan nature this process took follow him on to the court.”
After supporting Kavanaugh in a procedural vote, Manchin had to make he way past a crowd of angry protestors inside the Capitol.
Machin is the only Democratic senator to support Kavanaugh. His vote became more important for the confirmation after one of the Senate’s 51 Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, announced that she would vote no.
Four other Southern Democrats opposed the nomination — Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Doug Jones of Alabama. All 23 Southern Republicans supported Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Machin — running for re-election in November in a state Trump carried by 40 points in 2016 — was under considerable pressure to back Kavanaugh. He previously supported Trump’s first nominee to the court, Neil Gorsuch.
Polls have consistently shown Manchin with a lead over his Republican opponent, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
On Twitter, Morrisey accused Manchin of making “a craven political calculation” in supporting Kavanaugh and said he “owes West Virginia an apology for watching, doing nothing, as Democrats sought to destroy Judge Kavanaugh.”
Nelson and Kaine are also up for re-election in November; Warner and Jones will be on the ballot in 2020.
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Race between Scott and incumbent U.S. Senator Bill Nelson could be nation’s most expensive
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
Scott’s decision, announced April 9 in Orlando, sets up what is likely to be a hard-fought and hugely expensive battle for Florida’s seat, with control of the Senate hanging in the balance.
Calling Washington “dysfunctional” and slamming “career politicians,” Scott called on Floridians to “stop sending talkers to Washington. Let’s send doers to Washington.”
“We shouldn’t be sending the same type of people to Washington. We should say we’re going to make change,” Scott said. “We can change Washington. We must change Washington. We will change Washington.”
The emphasis on changing the culture of Washington was a direct slap at Nelson, who has served in the Senate for 18 years after serving 12 years in the U.S. House.
Scott, who kicked off his campaign at a construction company that has expanded during his eight years in Tallahassee, also touted his record as a “jobs” governor, taking credit for creating 1.5 million new jobs and cutting taxes by $10 billion.
“People are flocking to Florida because this is where you can live the dream of this country,” he said. “Now, we’ve got to take that same mission to D.C.”
Scott, 65, a multimillionaire former for-profit hospital executive, was a political newcomer when he was first elected governor in 2010 after pouring more than $70 million of his own money into the race. He was re-elected by a narrow margin in 2014.
Nelson, 75, was first elected to the Senate in 2000 and won re-election easily in 2006 and 2012. He is one of just five Democrats representing Southern states, along with U.S. Senators Doug Jones of Alabama, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Nelson and Machin, who both represent states President Donald Trump carried in 2016, are among the top Republican targets in the 2018 election cycle. Trump had been publicly urging Scott to run against Nelson.
In response to Scott’s announcement, Nelson issued a statement saying he has “always run every race like there’s no tomorrow — regardless of my opponent” and adding that Scott “will say or do anything to get elected.”
“I’ve always believed that if you just do the right thing, the politics will take care of itself,” he said.
The race in Florida, a state that is closely divided politically and has 10 television markets, is expected to approach or break spending records, particularly because of the personal fortune Scott can bring to bear.
The most expensive Senate race in history was in Pennsylvania in 2016, where more than $160 million was spent by candidates and outside groups.
Democrats will no doubt try to tie Scott to Trump, which could have unpredictable results in what’s shaping up to be a Democratic year. Another wildcard will be the effect of Scott’s support for new restrictions on gun purchases that passed the Florida legislature after 17 people died in a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland.
The new restrictions have drawn the ire of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, although supporters of stronger controls on guns faulted the measure passed by Florida lawmakers for not going far enough.
Republicans current have a narrow 51-to-49 seat advantage in the Senate, which means all of the seats up in 2018 could be pivotal in deciding which party is in control.
Among Southern seats, Democrats’ best targets are in Texas, Tennessee and a special election for a vacant seat in Mississippi. For Republicans, Nelson and Manchin are at the top of the target list, with an outside shot at Kaine.
No other Southern states have Senate races this year.
Jones is first Alabama Democrat to sit in the Senate since 1997
WASHINGTON (CFP) — Democrat Doug Jones has been officially sworn in as a U.S. senator, capping the remarkable and improbable political feat of capturing a Senate seat in one of the nation’s most Republican states.
Jones, flanked by former Vice President Joe Biden, was sworn in on January 3 by Vice President Mike Pence, alongside Democrat Tina Smith, who assumed the Senate seat from Minnesota vacated by Al Franken. The ceremony was then re-enacted in the Old Senate Chamber, where Jones was accompanied by his family.
Jones assumed the seat once held by his mentor and former boss, the late U.S. Senator Howell Heflin, who was the last Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State when he retired in 1997.
With Jones in the Senate, Republicans will hold a scant 51-49 advantage. With Pence available to break ties, Democrats need just two Republican votes to stop the majority from passing legislation.
Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, was given little chance to win the seat when a special election was called in April to pick a permanent replacement for Republican Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become U.S. attorney general.
But interest in Jones began picking up after the man picked to fill Session’s seat on a temporary basis, Luther Strange, was defeated in a Republican primary runoff by Roy Moore, the controversial former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. And then, a month before the December 12 election, the race was rocked by allegations that Moore had sexually pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s.
Moore vehemently denied the charges. But GOP Senate leaders quickly disavowed him and tried to push him out of the race, to no avail. Alabama Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby was among Moore’s detractors, saying publicly that he would not vote for Moore.
Almost alone among Republicans, President Donald Trump stood by Moore, telling his supporters that letting a “liberal” like Jones into the Senate would harm his agenda. But Republican defections, coupled with a strong turnout by African American voters, put Jones over the top by 22,000 votes.
Jones is one of only five Democrats representing Southern states in the Senate, joining U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida. The other 23 Southern senators are Republicans.
Jones will now serve the remainder of Sessions term, which comes up for election again in 2020.
Northam elected governor; Democrats sweep statewide races and make big gains in legislature
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
Democrats also won two other statewide offices, and the GOP lost its once-comfortable majority in the lower house of the state legislature, a stunning feat that included election of the nation’s first-ever transgender legislator.
Northam’s 54-45 percent victory over Gillespie in the November 7 vote was nearly twice as large as Hillary Clinton’s margin of victory over Donald Trump in 2016 and was built on 20-point victories in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and Richmond.
Holding the governorship in Virginia is a boon for Democrats frustrated by a string of heartbreaking defeats in special and off-year elections since Trump took the White House. The result, however, was a hold, not a takeaway, and it came in the lone Southern state Clinton carried.
Speaking to jubilant supporters in Fairfax, Northam offered a thinly veiled rebuke to the president’s take-no-prisoners style of politics.
“It was said that the eyes of the nation are on the commonwealth,” Northam said. “Today, Virginians have answered and have spoken. Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry and to end the politics that have torn this country apart.”
After Northam was declared the winner, Trump, visiting South Korea, sent a tweet taking issue with Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from the president: “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for.”
The specter of Trump hovered over the governor’s race. Gillespie did not invite the president to cross the Potomac to campaign for him, angering some in his party’s pro-Trump base, but Northam still tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.
In his concession speech, Gillespie thanked his campaign workers and supporters but did not mention the president.
“I felt called to serve. I hope I’ll discern what (God’s) calling is for me next,” Gillespie said.
Gillespie’s loss is his second statewide defeat in four years. In 2014, he challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner, coming to within 18,000 votes of beating him.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor from the D.C. suburbs, defeated Republican State Senator Jill Vogel. Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring also won his re-election race over Republican John Adams.
Perhaps the most shocking result of the night came in the races for the House of Delegates, the lower house of Virginia’s legislature. Republicans entered election day holding a 66-34 majority; Democrats ousted at least 11 incumbents and picked up three open seats that the GOP had held.
With five races still too close to call, Democrats had 48 seats and Republicans 47. Of the five races left outstanding, Republicans were ahead in three and Democrats in two. If those results hold, the chamber would be evenly divided, 50-50.
In four of the five House races still to be decided, the leads are less than 125 votes, making recounts likely.
Among the winners was Danica Roem, a transgender woman who won a seat in Prince William County by defeating veteran GOP Delegate Bob Marshall, a 14-term social conservative who had described himself as Virginia’s “chief homophobe” and insisted on referring to Roem with male pronouns.
When Roem takes office, she will be the the first transgender person in the United States to be elected and serve in a state legislature while openly acknowledging her gender identity.
Northam’s win in the South’s lone off-year governor’s election gives Democrats three of the region’s 14 governorships, with Northam joining Louisiana Governor Jon Bell Edwards and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. The incumbent Democrat in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe, was barred by state law from seeking re-election.
Northam, 58, comes to the governorship after 10 years in elected office, first as a state senator and then lieutenant governor. A former U.S. Army doctor, he has practiced pediatric neurology at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992.
With his win, Democrats have now won three of the last four governor’s races in Virginia, a once solidly Republican state that has trended Democratic in recent years, primarily due to an influx of new voters into the Washington, D.C. suburbs.
Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam battle to lead the only Southern state Hillary Clinton carried
♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com
RICHMOND (CFP) — Virginians decide Tuesday whether to raise their Democratic lieutenant governor to the state’s top job or turn the reins over to a senior operative from George W. Bush’s White House.
The lone off-year governor’s race in the South pits Ed Gillespie, a Bush aide and former head of the Republican National Committee, against Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, a pediatrician who has spent the past decade in state politics.
In addition to the marquee governor’s race, statewide races for lieutenant governor and attorney general are on the ballot, and energized Democrats are trying to flip a slew of state House seats to gain bragging rights heading into the 2018 midterms.
Polls across the commonwealth open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.
Of seven non-partisan public polls conducted since October 29 in the governor’s race, six showed results within the margin of error, making the results statistically insignificant. Just one poll, from Quinnipiac University, showed Northam with a lead of at least 1.2 percent outside the margin of error.
However, that Quinniapiac poll showed Gillespie had made up substantial ground against Northam in the final week of the campaign, particularly among independents, among whom the difference between the candidates was statistically insignificant.
Conspicuously absent from the race — President Donald Trump, who was never invited to cross the Potomac to campaign with Gillespie, although Vice President Mike Pence did make an appearance on his behalf. Trump did, however, endorse Gillespie on Twitter.
Virginia was the only Southern state that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, due in part to her stronger-than-usual showing the Republican-leaning Washington, D.C. suburbs in the northern part of the state. So the Gillespie campaign had to thread a difficult needle of not galvanizing anti-Trump voters by campaigning with the president, while at the same time not antagonizing ardent Trump supporters in more conservative parts of the state.
Indeed, the potency of the Trump brand among the Republican base nearly took Gillespie down in June when, despite being a prohibitive favorite, he almost lost the party’s primary to Corey Stewart, Trump’s one-time state campaign manager.
Stewart, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2018, told Politico that Trump supporters were “bewildered” and “offended” by Gillespie’s decision to distance himself from Trump, predicting that it would hurt Gillespie by discouraging the president’s supporters from turning out.
Northam, in turn, has tried to hang Trump around Gillespie’s neck, running a TV ad during the final weekend of the campaign accusing the GOP nominee of figuratively “standing right next” to the president, even if literally he had not.
Northam, 58, joined the U.S. Army to complete his medical training after graduating from the Virginia Military Institute and has worked as a pediatric neurologist at a children’s hospital in Norfolk since 1992. He has admitted to voting for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 before he became active in state politics, saying that he had been “underinformed” at the time.
In 2007, he was elected as a Democrat to the Virginia Senate, representing a district that included parts of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. In 2013, he became lieutenant governor, running alongside incumbent Governor Terry McAuliffe, who, under state law, can’t run for a second consecutive term.
Northam was challenged in the primary by former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello, who tried to counter Northam’s establishment support by mobilizing Bernie Sanders supporters. In the end, Northam won by 12 points, though he has continued to face criticism from his left flank during the campaign for supporting two controversial gas pipeline projects and opposing the establishment of sanctuary cities in Virginia.
After working as Bush’s communications director in the 2000 campaign, Gillespie, 56, started a lobbying firm in Washington and was elected chairman of the RNC in 2003. He went back to the White House in 2007 as a counselor to the president and served until the end of Bush’s second term in 2009.
In 2014, Gillespie challenged Democratic U.S. Senator Mark Warner. Though Warner’s seat was considered safe, Gillespie came within 18,000 votes of beating him, in what would have been the biggest upset of the 2014 campaign.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican State Senator Jill Vogel, from Fauquier County west of Washington, is facing Democrat Justin Fairfax, an attorney and former federal prosecutor who lives in surburban Fairfax.
A controversy erupted in the closing days of the campaign when Northam’s campaign dropped Fairfax, who is African-American, from a direct mail piece sent to voters because of his opposition to the two pipeline projects Northam supports.
Critics called his exclusion racist, a charge that Northam’s camp denied. But the flap could have consequences for a race in which Northam will need strong African-American support to win.
In the race for attorney general, the incumbent Democrat, Mark Herring, is being challenged by Republican John Adams, a Richmond lawyer who once clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In addition to the three statewide races, 100 seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, the lower house of the legislature, are up for grabs. Despite Virginia’s status as a swing state in presidential politics, Republicans currently hold 66 seats, to just 34 for Democrats.
However, Democrats are contesting 88 of those seats in 2017, including challenges in 17 Republican-held seats that Clinton carried in 2016. So the results in Virginia are likely to be viewed as a bellweather for what might happen in 2018, particularly if Democrats make gains in suburban districts near Washington and Richmond.
State Senate seats are not up in Virginia this year; Republicans control the Senate, 21 to 19.